Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Richard Mason

Pub Date: May 12th, 1999
ISBN: 0-446-52524-3

A 20-year Oxford student’s precocious debut: dazzling in its inventive plot, persuasive in its mannerisms, and much too susceptible to mistaking agile chatter for deep wisdom. Mason has created a grabby premise: in an effort to explain why James Farrell has just killed Sarah, his wife of four decades, the now 70-year-old recalls the privileged, wainscoted, chandeliered, wealthy England of his youth—way back in the1990s. The story begins in 1994, with just a few closing pages devoted to the “present” in mid-21st century. James sees enigmatic Ella Harewood meditatively smoking on a park bench and falls immediately in love. Though she is engaged to be married, Ella discovers she shares James’s covert disgust with convention, and together they conspire to upset the wedding plans. Though educated and raised in America, Ella confides to James that she stands to inherit Selon Castle and its island, a family property Ella’s cousin Sarah yearns to inhabit. Conventional, restrained, and proper in the English way, Sarah develops an ardent jealousy of her spoiled cousin. Worse, Ella’s groom is the one love of her life. The wedding is indeed disrupted, and Ella requires James to prove his love by setting in motion a series of events that end with the death of his best friend. James is stricken by grief and, after Ella apparently murders her father, he marries Sarah. Years later, on the eve of his 70th birthday, James discovers the cruel secret that leads to Sarah’s death. Throughout, our protagonist considers the nature of time and memory, guilt and sin, etc., in pointless musings that impede the progress of an otherwise compelling, artfully revealed plot. Mason’s prose is unremarkable, as is his distinctly unfascinating attempt at “larger themes,” but his storytelling is solid and his sense of intrigue nicely developed. (Author tour)